Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of SHŌBU by Smirk & Laughter Games

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of SHŌBU by Smirk & Laughter Games
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Title: SHŌBU
Designed by: Manolis Vranas, Jamie Sajdak
Publisher: Smirk & Laughter Games
Year Published: 2019
MSRP: $30
2p | 15-30 min | 8+

SHŌBU is a new game from Smirk & Laughter Games that has a feel of a classic abstract strategy game that has been around for centuries.  Two players face off in a battle of wits, trying to eliminate their opponent from one of the four wooden boards that serve as a playing area.  Turns are simple, just take two actions: a Passive Move with one of your pieces on one of your home boards that doesn't affect any other pieces, then an Aggressive Move on either board of the opposite color that can potentially bump your opponent's pieces, maybe off the board.

Blooms are the game's highlights and features.  Elements that are exceptional.

  • The game has a wonderfully classic feel, like something that's been played for centuries.
  • The aesthetic is great, with the wooden boards, riverstone pieces, and rope divider.
  • Simple rules can be taught in minutes and you'll be playing in no time.
  • It's a battle of wits that will thrill even the most strategic minded gamers.
  • Should appeal to both gamers and non-gamers.  Anyone who likes classic games like Chess, Go, Backgammon, etc. should feel right at home playing SHŌBU.
Buds are interesting parts of the game I would like to explore more. 

  • The more I play the more I realize the depth to the strategies.
  • I love how the alternating board movement causes you to have to think ahead multiple moves as you have to reposition your pieces for your next offensive while still staying on the defense.
  • I've read about several variants that use the positioning of the rope piece (which is purely aesthetic in the main game) to change how and where you can move pieces.
  • Don't be afraid to sacrifice pieces early on in the game.  Sometimes it's easier to run away when you have fewer pieces on a board while you mount your offensive on a different board!
Thorns are a game's shortcomings and any issues I feel are noteworthy.

  • The hardest part of the game is remembering that you have to complete your Aggressive Move on a board of the opposite color from your Passive Move.  This adds to the strategy and puzzle, but is also easy to overlook when you're concentrating on the game.  I've had several occasions where it was realized a turn or two later that someone accidentally "cheated" and even more where we caught the mistake just before the next player was about to move.  This can break the rhythm of the game, but it's mostly the fault of the players, not the game.
  • The 15-30 minute game time can be highly variable.  If the two players are of unequal strategic skill the game can be very quick.  Between players of equal skill games can go longer than the 30 minutes, sometimes significantly.  This is true of many games of this nature, however.
  • Analysis Paralysis can be a real factor in this type of game.
  • What exactly was the rope included for, other than aesthetics?
  • SHŌBU is a pain to type since there's no "Ō" on my keyboard!
Final Thoughts:
I really, really like SHŌBU, so much so that it made the number 7 spot on my Top 11 New-To-Me Games of 2019 list!  This is the type of game that I feel, had it been made 1000 years ago, would be a staple in most households around the world.  Strategically I feel it can hold its own against classics like Chess or Go.  Granted, I'm not a professional Chess or Go player, but I think the simplicity, elegance, and strategy in SHŌBU is something that can be studied in depth.  I can see people discussing the strategies behind different opening moves and counter moves, pros and cons of focusing on one board vs dividing attention amongst multiple boards, and heated discussions about when to mount an offensive strike.  Someday I'd love to see old men (and women) sitting around in parks, playing SHŌBU right along with the Chess, Checkers, and Dominos players we see today!

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Rating:
Bloom!  This game is great and worth
adding to your collection!  It should be
on just about every gamer's shelf. 

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GJJ Games Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some were provided by a publisher or designer for my honest feedback and evaluation.  I make every attempt to be both honest and constructively critical in my reviews, and they are all my opinions.  There are four types of reviews on GJJ Games: Full Reviews feature critical reviews based on a rubric and games receive a rating from 0 to 100.  Quick Reviews and Kickstarter Previews are either shorter reviews of published games or detailed preview reviews of crowdfunding games that will receive a rating from 0 to 10 based on my impressions of the game.  Buds, Blooms,and Thorns reviews are shorter reviews of either published or upcoming games that highlight three aspects of a game: Buds are parts of a game I look forward to exploring more, Blooms are outstanding features of a game, and Thorns are shortcomings of a game.  Each BBT review game will receive an overall rating of Thorn, Bud, or Bloom.

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